KROQ "Almost Acoustic Christmas"

(Universal Amphitheatre; 6,251 capacity; $33)

By Troy J. Augusto

HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - This seventh edition of KROQ's annual holiday benefit was split into two distinct programs: girls' night and boys' night. Or, put another way, the boring night and the fun night.

Night No. 1 featured an impressive collection of female-dominated acts you'd be more likely to hear on adult-rock station KSCA than on the more youthful, hard-rock leaning KROQ.

Such serious songbirds as Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant and Sarah McLachlan were pleasant in their abbreviated sets, but it was hardly the cheerful fiesta one expects from a holiday celebration.

A few of the women did shake things up, though. Garbage, fronted by the increasingly engaging Shirley Manson, played the most raucous set of the evening, while Jewel's yodeling, the Cardigans' nifty version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" and teenage Fiona Apple's hyper-mature style were all noteworthy. But little in the six-hour show made for much merriment.

At night No. 2 on Saturday, the boys came out to play and had better luck injecting much-needed levity into the proceedings.

Headliners Bush and 311 were the only acts greeted with unconditional applause, and neither disappointed the gathered fans. Bush performed songs from their recent No. 1 album "Razorblade Suitcase" which offered little beyond the warmed-over grunge found on their first album. But few in the packed house seemed to mind.

311 wrapped up their fruitful yearlong tour with a powerful nine-song set that included their hits "Down" and "All Mixed Up." The wacky "Novocaine for the Soul" was the highlight of the eels' set, which they played after opening their Christmas-wrapped instruments.

Comic relief was provided by Beck and Presidents of the U.S.A. who, in back-to-back sets, played punchy songs dripping with sarcasm and wit.

The two sold-out shows raised money for a variety of charities, including R.A.I.N.N., Amos' rape crisis center, and Haven House, a battered women's shelter in Pasadena.

Presented by KROQ. Bands: (Night 1) Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Garbage, Jewel, The Cardigans, Fiona Apple, Poe, Tracy Bonham; (Night 2) Bush, 311, Presidents of the United States of America, Beck, Orbital, Cake, eels, Republica, Wallflowers. Reviewed Dec. 13 and 14, 1996.

Lovingly typed in by John Stewart, although Julian takes all responsibility for any typos during conversion to HTML.

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